Rotorua Lakes Council has shed more light on what its emergency operations centre is and how it functions during the Covid-19 lockdown.

A council spokesperson said the emergency operations centre is part of the council's civil defence emergency management function, taking direction from the National Emergency Management Agency.

Civil defence responses were often associated with natural disasters like flooding or earthquakes but were also required for pandemics, the spokesperson said.

"When the State of Emergency was declared in New Zealand last month, this meant all emergency operations centres around the country needed to activate and be ready to help their communities."

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The Ministry of Health and local District Health Boards were leading the Covid-19 health and other emergency operations centres were working to support that work in the non-health realm.

Rotorua Lakes Council. Photo / File
Rotorua Lakes Council. Photo / File

That included "checking on our vulnerable populations, making sure everyone has enough food and access to hygiene products, ensuring people have somewhere to stay and have access to important information about the Covid-19 response and that they understand it".

The council's centre had almost 50 staff members, made up of people who normally had "regular, non-emergency day jobs" at the council.

Those staff members were trained in civil defence response work, however.

The centre would usually be set up in the council's Civic Centre building, but due to the lockdown, many of those employees were working from home, with "a handful" of the team in the building and following "strict social distancing and hygiene protocols".

The centre's local controller Bruce Horne said Covid-19 was "very different" to any other sort of emergency dealt with before.

"Currently gathering and managing information is one of our most challenging tasks due to the size and complexity of this emergency."

The centre was using networks across the community and using technology such as Zoom, a video conferencing app, to "share information and collaborate" with Te Arawa, health professionals and other agencies, he said.

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"Our main role at this time is looking for gaps and identifying ways that we can support other agencies, in particular, medical professionals and the police."

Horne said the centre was available to help people needing advice, or if they couldn't find what they were looking for on the Covid-19 website.

Teams worked on "information gathering and analysis, planning, logistics, providing welfare support to the community and providing information to the public", according to a council spokesperson.

Responding to requests for support was a "key focus" and the council hoped to ensure the "most vulnerable people" were cared for.

"With so many agencies working in the social sector, one of the challenges is developing an understanding of who is doing what, and making sure no one falls through a gap.

"If people are unable to access supermarkets or pharmacies, the welfare team works to ensure those people get the essential items they need.

The centre was also addressing requests for equipment and resources, while others were planning for "'What If' type situations".

Others were planning for Rotorua's recovery "for when we beat the pandemic and can return to a new normal"

* If you wish to contact the Rotorua Lakes Council emergency operations centre you can by calling 07 348 4199, or emailing info@rotorualc.nz.

Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website